Interview with Alumnus & Professor Matt Marshall

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HU: What brought you to screenwriting?

MM: To be honest it was the only thing left in the arts I hadn’t tried yet. I have a background in Art History, Music Composition, and Theatre. I love film and had taught and studied every aspect of it except STORY. It felt like the right way to close my educational loop.

HU: What was your first script about?

MM: It was about a painter who wonders what would happen if two people imagine each other at the same moment. Would they be able to meet for real? The painter imagines a writer is writing a story about her. As the writer sits in the coffee shop he begins to write a story about this painter. Suddenly she appears out the window. He can’t believe she has materialized. He must meet her. What will happen when they see each other? Probably would have made a decent Twilight Zone episode back in the day.

HU: What were the highlights of your experiences at HU both as a student and as a professor?

MM: As a student, making my first film in Amy Gerber-Stroh’s video class. It was a life changing experience looking through the lens and breaking the world up into little rectangles. As a professor, every conversation I had with a student as they were getting excited about a new story or paper idea. When ideas start taking hold, it is such a beautiful experience to be in the presence of people who are riding or creating this wave.

HU: Is there a class you wish you had here as a student? What would it be?

MM: Screenwriting for Playwrights/Playwriting for Screenwriters. Some sort of class that addresses both forms where screenwriters can get a good dialogue polish from playwrights and playwrights can learn how they can be more VISUAL on stage. It would be cross listed so students in the Playwriting and Screenwriting programs would both get credit. We can learn a lot from each other.

HU: What were the best/worst movies you’ve seen this year? Why?
MM: The Revenant and Mad Max because they were the MOST cinematic. They were relentless and unapologetic. They don’t exist on the page. They exist on the screen.  Yes, a bit on the macho side, and perhaps they appeal to my inner Rambo, but they were extraordinary experiences in the theater. Ex Machina was the most satisfying intellectual experience last year. The worst film last year was Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens. It was a total cop-out, vote-of-no-confidence in the new material film. It completely pandered to nostalgia and was nothing less than plagiarism of a New Hope. (Sorry. I know I’m in the minority on this one.)


HU: Who’s your favorite screenwriter?

MM: For dialogue, I love Ingmar Bergman and Tarantino. David Lynch is my favorite Art Film writer. He creates amazing nightmare movies. Wes Anderson overall. I love his foregrounding of awkward pauses and quirky behavior. The Anderson formula is children behaving like adults and adults behaving like children. You can’t go wrong with that sort of contrast. 

HU: Do you have any advice for current students?

MM: The most important thing you can do to become a successful screenwriter is to cultivate an insatiable curiosity for life. Become a student of humanity. Read philosophy. Go as deep as you can. Experience everything you can. Always observe for meaning, even when you are in line at the grocery store. Your knowledge of story structure will not create a compelling story. Your point of view and experience will. The structure is just there to help you give this experience some shape. 

HU: What was your favorite class as a student? Why?

MM: Well, it is important to understand that I was a student pre-Tim Albaugh, so I never benefited from the programs he has brought since, particularly the writing for television courses, which I wish I had taken. It was actually a Playwriting class I took as an elective that really stimulated my creative writing energies. We were given writing prompts. Certain props had to be in our play. Certain phrases had to be said. Certain themes had to be present. Because we had these guidelines, we ended up writing things we wouldn’t possibly have come up with on our own. We learned how to problem solve, how to fit certain story elements together. I found this to be incredibly useful in terms of long-term creativity. When you have prompts, you flex certain muscles that you don’t when the story is left completely up to you. 

HU: Tell us about your professional life to this point. What was the transition like from student to a professor?

MM: I will openly admit I have found it very difficult to teach and make time for professional writing. I’ve loved teaching and the interaction with students and the wonderful ideas and observations the classroom environment facilitates, but I am looking forward to transitioning to full-time writing in the next two months. Some can balance both well but I cannot.  I have a television series in development dealing with the Edgar Allan Poe character Roderick Usher (from Fall of the House of Usher). It is a sort of Penny Dreadful of the Edgar Allan Poe world and actress Adrienne King, the heroine from the original Friday the 13th (1980) has been kind enough to try to get it off the ground. She is a fellow Long Islander. I have another television series that deals with Scrooge and Marley, the early years when they were in business together before Christmas Carol picks up, and I’m still working with NY Times Best selling fantasy author Katherine Kurtz, adapting her novel, St. Patrick’s Gargoyle, which hopefully will go into production in the next year or two in Dublin. It is always good to have a few pots on the stove. Something will eventually boil over.   

HU: I know you and I share a deep love and appreciation for music, and for you that was part of what inspired your passion for films. What is your favorite movie score/soundtrack? Who is your favorite movie score composer? Why?

MM: I wish I had a more specialized niche answer but Bernard Herrmann by far. His score for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo is extraordinary. I actually consider Vertigo a Music Drama, a spoken word opera. The music gives you more insight into what the characters are thinking, feeling, remembering, regretting, wishing, than any of the dialogue. You can listen to the score and follow the story. I also love Peter Gabriel’s score for the Last Temptation of Christ.

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